Gender-Deconstructing Consumption: Scale Development and Validation

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INTRODUCTION

Among the many social and historical changes that have occurred in this century, none is more important or has more far reaching implications than changes in the role and economic status of women. Unsurprisingly, these changes have had and will continue to have a profound effect on business and public policy. It is, therefore, imperative that businesspeople, consumer advocates, and public policy makers attend to developments in this area. This article provides a scale which can be used to monitor changes in consumption preferences that flow from the evolution of gender ideology.

THE CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER

The idea that women are inferior and should be subordinate has a history sufficiently long that it is deeply embedded in both language and custom. Its more subtle manifestations are, therefore, difficult to detect and even more difficult to change (Smith, 1987). To take just one example, women's sphere of influence and range of career opportunities have been limited by the restriction on women in combat, a restriction framed as a beneficent protection, but a protection that no woman could wave if she wished to obtain the opportunities that were its price. Asymmetries encoded in language are, if anything, even more difficult to unmask than those which take the form of custom (Larsen, 1993).

Fortunately, Jacques Derrida (1973; Culler, 1982), a prominent post-structuralist philosopher, has provided an insight which uncovers some of the hidden asymmetries. Language, he points out, is replete with dichotomous and apparently equivalent pairs: man/woman, male/female, boy/girl, husband/wife, mind/body, north/south, positive/negative, rich/poor, competent/incompetent. Derrida's insight is that the equivalence implied by the pairing of these terms masks an actual asymmetry. In each case, the first term in the pair is preferred or "valorized." This valorization is revealed in the fact that it sounds odd to reverse the order of the terms when they are used together, i. e. say south and north, poor and rich, female and male. It is revealed, too, in the fact that the first term reflects the historical locus of power or value. Historically, the north has been more prosperous and powerful than the south (in both the US and the world), the rich more comfortable and respected than the poor, men more honored and obeyed than women. People in power have constructed the language code in such a way that it hides these asymmetries behind a falsely implied balance and, thus, makes them seem natural. Derrida and other post-structuralists unmask the conventionality of these distinctions, showing that they are rooted not in nature but in group interests and the exercise of group power.

Consumer researchers have long since pointed out that consumption, like these verbal dichotomies, is heavily gender coded (Courtney & Lockeretz, 1971; Davis & Rigaux, 1974; Gentry & Doering, 1977). It has more recently become apparent that the asymmetries uncovered by Derrida's linguistic analyses are manifest in gender coded consumption as well. For instance, Fontenelle and Zinkhan (1992) suggest that the experience of leisure is asymmetrical for women and men. The leisure of a woman is likely to be tied to that of her partner and children so that even on vacation, her needs tend to be subordinated to the needs of her family. The leisure of men, on the other hand, tends to be relatively free from constraint. In a similar vein, Wallendorf and Arnould (1991) found that Thanksgiving Day, a day of leisure and relaxation for men, often involves very hard work for women, who must cook the ritual feast, then clean up afterward. And Fischer and Arnold (1990) have shown that family Christmas shopping tends to be framed as a compulsory duty for women but as an optional pleasure for men.

Since language is at root a system of differences (Saussure, 1959), linguistic and social dichotomies are probably unavoidable. …